Winter’s Fire – Chapter 1

Copyright © 2017 by Christie Adams

“Mr. Simmonds, while you’re here…”

Logan closed his eyes and wished he were on the other side of the planet. The sudden surge in stress hormones triggered by that voice—and anticipation of the next unreasonable demand it would make—launched his blood pressure into the stratosphere. The door to his boss’ office had barely clicked shut behind his principal before she was on his case. Again. Lucy Winter—professional control freak and bane of his work life. Which particular nit had she lined up for picking this time? An old favourite, or would she surprise him with a new transgression?

Prepped for combat, he turned towards her. “Yes, Miss Winter?”

“About your last expense claim…”

Not that again. Holy shit, did the woman have nothing better to do? The claim was history. He’d submitted the report and a pile of receipts, end of story. Or so he’d thought, before that icy stare, utterly devoid of even the merest glimmer of humour—not to mention humanity—threatened to freeze the marrow in his bones. One thing was certain—whatever had rubbed her up the wrong way, she had no intention of letting him off the hook. “What about it?”

“Your paperwork. I need it. I can’t check your claim without it, and Sir Guy can’t approve your claim before I check it. As I’ve mentioned to you numerous times already, it’s in your own best interests to make sure you submit the documentation without delay.”

That did it. She made him sound like a schoolboy who hadn’t handed in his homework on time. His last surviving nerve spontaneously combusted, and the glare she levelled at him stoked the blaze even higher. She thought that would intimidate him into complying? No chance. He’d faced NCOs who’d make the most terrifying insurgent look like the favourite to win a good neighbour award. Compared to them, Miss Winter didn’t even reach the exalted rank of amateur.

Logan approached her desk. With the precision of a sniper lining up his shot, he placed his knuckles on the surface and leaned towards her. The message he was about to deliver would get through loud and clear.

“I told you, Miss Winter—I left the bloody receipts in your in-tray over a week ago, along with the report from that pain-in-the-arse system. I didn’t keep copies, and I didn’t scan them—I’ve got better things to do with my fucking time than stand there and watch that bloody machine chew everything up!”

“Mr. Simmonds, I’ve told you several times—I can’t allow Sir Guy to approve claims without the original paperwork, or scans of it. Departmental policy—”

“I don’t give a rat’s arse about ‘departmental policy.’ Pay the claim, don’t pay the claim—I don’t bloody care. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a real job to do.”

Without waiting for another comment from his nemesis, he stalked out of the office and slammed the door shut behind him.

As he strode down the corridor, sparing a brief nod for his one and only female front-line colleague as he went, Logan had to admit he hadn’t been one hundred percent accurate in his last statement to Miss Winter—he didn’t so much have a job to do as an appointment to attend. The unit doctor wanted to see him yet again to assess the progress of his recovery from the last injury he’d incurred. Damn, but he’d have to reduce the number of encounters he had with knife-wielding crazies—this one had come dangerously close to severing a major blood vessel. Nerve damage had also been a very real possibility. Though the wound was healing well enough now, the disfigurement to his left biceps wasn’t pretty and never would be.

What pissed him off more, though, was that this fuck-up with his arm had come so soon after he’d joined the squad. Not the best impression to make at this point, and it had landed him with one of the shittiest, most boring jobs in creation.

Logan was not cut out to be a bodyguard. His definition of “active duty” was a hell of a lot more active than this. He’d had a gutful of sitting on his arse and escorting Dr. Simon Northwood to wherever he needed to be.

For Logan, the end of this babysitting gig couldn’t come soon enough. That, combined with his difference of opinion with Miss Winter, was more than enough to sour his attitude, but sharing equal responsibility was this return visit to the medic’s office, scene of one of the most exhaustive physicals he’d ever endured. He was now on his way to see the same female doctor who’d grabbed his balls back then and ordered him to cough. At least this time around, she’d only be interested in his arm. If she was in a good mood, he might even be able to sweet-talk her into letting him off the naughty step early.

The hunger to get back into the adrenaline rush of a genuine assignment was gnawing at him on a daily basis. That would put him back in the thick of it, and well away from Sir Guy’s prissy spitfire. With an attitude like hers, he had to wonder how she ever got laid.

Maybe that was the problem. She wasn’t getting any, and for whatever whacked-out reason, she was taking it out on him.

And if he told himself that often enough, it might actually obliterate his own libido’s pig-headed insistence on acknowledging that she really was quite beautiful.

 

~~*~~

 

Men! Can’t live with ’em, can’t kill ’em!

Lucy glowered at the retreating back of the particularly irritating specimen with whom she’d just crossed swords. The thought became even more caustic with the explosive slam with which he abused her door.

The man was gone, but echoes of his presence lingered, a shockwave rippling out from the testosterone-spewing human volcano that was Logan Simmonds. An image had lodged itself in her mind and wouldn’t let go.

It was the way he’d leaned down towards her, arms braced on her desk. Determined to show no fear, she’d almost gone cross-eyed while trying to maintain eye contact, but she’d still been ambushed by the tantalising texture of his lightly tanned skin and the feathering of each individual hair dusting his forearms. And if she closed her eyes, she could still catch a hint of his subtle, fresh aftershave, reminiscent of the ocean, and lethal in combination with his own unique scent.

All of that, however, was cancelled out by an attitude that stank. Whatever happened, that egotistical personification of machismo was not going to intimidate her. So what if he could take out a tank with one flame-thrower of a glare, and his brains appeared to inhabit his well-developed biceps? She wouldn’t cave in the face of tactics like his.

His cavalier approach towards administrative process wasn’t the only thing about him that annoyed her. Leaving aside the whole breathing thing, he had a knack for triggering yet another battle in her ongoing war with her neglected lady parts. Her focus was on her career—specifically, the career she coveted, not the career she had.

Relationships were strictly for the birds.

Not for her.

And not with a man like Logan Simmonds.

With a final burst of vitriolic thought, Lucy turned away from the door, finding some small comfort in dreaming up a suitable revenge for the notions he inspired that had nothing whatsoever to do with work.

“Oh, yes, Mr. Simmonds.” The words came out as a low mutter. In the darkest recesses of her lurid imagination, ideas were forming that would terrify the average male. “If I had my way, I’d take your balls and slice them off with a blunt knife—a very blunt knife, the bluntest one I could find.”

“Hey, Luce, how’s it going?”

Lucy threw a look over her shoulder. She hadn’t heard the door open again. The voice that startled her belonged to the unit’s only female field officer—Sir Guy’s niece, and Lucy’s professional role model.

“It’s going very well, Miss Edwards, thank you for asking. I can’t believe I’ve been here four months already. Sir Guy said you were to go right in.”

“Thanks—and it’s Ros, Lucy. Remember? ‘Miss Edwards’ would be my spinster aunt… if I had one.”

Lucy watched Ros knock on the door to her uncle’s inner sanctum and disappear inside. Whatever he’d wanted to see her for, it must have been connected with Dr. Simon Northwood, who’d arrived a few minutes ago, escorted by Simmonds.

That was one bonus about this job, Lucy reflected—the serious amount of male eye candy that surrounded her every day. Dr. Northwood was only a visitor, of course, but leaving him aside, most of the men under Sir Guy Somerton’s command were abominably good-looking.

Even Logan Simmonds, in an utterly hot, Hades-god-of-the-underworld sort of way.

What was it about the ebony-black hair, and the blue eyes framed with dark lashes that no amount of mascara could emulate? The strong jawline, and the five o’clock shadow it sported no matter what time of day she had the misfortune to see him, only served to heighten the impact of the man.

Lucy gave a small sigh of defeat. He was undoubtedly sex on a stick. With her siblings all serving in the British armed forces, Lucy was well acquainted with the specification for a physically fit man. Without a doubt, Logan Simmonds not only met that specification, but surpassed it. Then again, he was a former Royal Marines Commando, and with two of her brothers being members of the same branch, she was keenly aware of their almost institutional dedication to maintaining peak fitness.

Come to think of it, the only material difference between the three men was in the length of their hair. Ben and James followed regulations, but Logan’s hair tended to scuff the collar of his shirt. Still short by civilian standards, it was thick and glossy, and Lucy could understand how some women might lust after running their fingers through it.

She squared her shoulders. Some women did not include her—unless some stabbing of fingers were involved. In Logan’s case, she could do stabbing. Her ex, as well. Thanks to that repulsive specimen, Lucy was off men for the foreseeable future, no matter how attractive they might be, hence the neglected lady parts. Without the distraction of a man under her feet, when she’d heard about the imminent retirement of Sir Guy Somerton’s PA, she’d been able to focus her full attention on securing the role for herself.

Her brothers had planted that particular seed, with their talk about the elite squad and their aspirations to join it once their military service was complete. The stories they’d told had fired her imagination, to the point where she’d finally recognised what she wanted for a career.

And if she was going to succeed, she’d realised she’d have to be creative about it. Military service was the normal method of entry—since she hadn’t followed her siblings into the forces, she’d approached the matter from a different angle. Armed with a raft of killer admin skills gained from a variety of jobs, she’d jumped at the chance to apply for the position of Sir Guy’s assistant. A few days after the interview, she’d been thrilled to receive the job offer.

Now all she had to do was watch out for an opportunity to prove her potential as a field officer to her boss. There had to be some way to convince him that what she had to offer could mitigate her lack of military experience.

It wasn’t as if she didn’t have the skills—some of them, at any rate.

James had taught her everything he knew about firearms, which, given his role as a sniper with the Royal Marines, was not inconsiderable. Not only had he taught her how and when to shoot, but all aspects of gun care, too.

Sam’s contribution, as a fully-fledged emergency medical technician with the Royal Navy, had been a comprehensive knowledge of front-line first aid.

Although she’d learned martial arts from a qualified instructor from an early age, Ben, her second oldest brother, had taught her how to fight for real. “In a life-or-death situation, you don’t give a flying fuck about observing the niceties” was his blunt way of putting it.

That left Adam, the oldest, biggest and baddest of her siblings, and a warrant officer in the Army. He’d taken the physical fitness she’d acquired from her dance classes and honed it to military standards, by way of excruciating torture. After all, why confine exercise to a warm, dry gym, when the alternative was long-distance, cross-country runs in all weathers, and using logs and old tyres to build strength and muscle tone?

Lucy wasn’t about to let a lack of military service get in the way of achieving her ambition. She was a fast learner, and she had faith in her ability, and her arse in the seat as Sir Guy’s assistant.

Surely fate wouldn’t be so perverse as to let her get this close, only to deny her at the last hurdle?